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on January 19, 2003
I give 'Killer Instinct' this much: it was a quick and entertaining read -- a fun ride. The type of book you tear right through in a night. However, I find it difficult to take seriously Jane Hamsher's account of events. I find it curious that every single woman in this book is portrayed as a sweet, strong-willed, honest-to-goodness saint, worthy of enormous sympathy -- (not least of all, Jane Hamsher herself!) -- while almost every single man (save for one writer friend of hers) is portrayed as, more or less, an utter demon (at times, almost literally.)* Even her "partner in crime," Don Murphy is shown, at times, in a critical light -- but never Iron-Willed Jane. She is the very picture of patience and professionalism, often beset upon, but rarely (if ever) in error. It's interesting that at several points, particularly on the production of NBK, it is implied that a lot of people on the set are losing patience with her and are irritated by her presence -- but unfortunately, we don't have their side of the story, and as far as Jane is concerned, it is (always!) all miraculously due to their inability to handle the fact that she's a woman. (!!!) Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt there's plenty of sexism in Hollywood, but Hamsher's account, with its suspiciously unfailing tendency to portray every single woman as a flawless, tough-hearted angel, leads me to believe that this is not just a one-sided account, but quite possibly entirely out-of-whack, the rays of truth refracted wildly through Hamsher's "feminist fairytale" vision of her own experiences.
Additionally, I find it interesting that while initially very smitten with Tarantino's ideas and scripts, that as their professional ties go south, he magically turns into a thoroughly talentless hack, milking stolen ideas for all they're worth. But then she remembers that NBK is her dream project, and it was, of course, scripted by him -- drats! Thinking fast, she asserts that by far the best part of the script -- the TV sitcom parody -- was the work of her writer friend, not Tarantino. Well, uh ... OK.
Particularly priceless, though, is her initial (and I think only) direct encounter with Lawrence Bender, Tarantino's producer. They meet at a party, he says hello and is perfectly friendly and polite to her, and that's pretty much the extent of her experiences with him. Given that, it's pretty amazing (and terribly questionable) exactly how much hostility she has towards him and how much dirt she shovels in his direction throughout the rest of the book. Upon meeting him, she feels "queasy," shakes, and has to immediately leave the room for some air when they part! Why? Because she feels intuitively that she has just been in the presence of -- I believe she uses the term "jackal" -- but given the incredibly over-the-top way she describes it, the impression is more that of a "demon."* And why does she feel that way? Well, it's not one of those things you can explain, see, but essentially, it seems to mainly have to do with the fact that his eyes have a distant look to them. (They "recede into an emotional abyss when he speaks" according to Hamsher.)
I've never met Lawrence Bender, and I have no trouble believing that Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone and the host of other male Hollywood stars and hopefuls that appear in Hamsher's tale have their fair share of shortcomings and ballooned egos. Maybe a few of them really are even bad, dishonest people, through and though. Maybe. What I find more difficult to believe is that Hamsher and her coterie of oppressed agents and starlets and mother-figures are half as immaculate as they seem in the version of events she gives us here.
I also question the motivation for writing this book. A fun ride through the Hollywood system, or just an excuse to trash-talk people who've gone on to have more successful careers than she? Looking through Hamsher's filmography, I notice her unfailing tendency to grab interesting projects and turn them into mediocre films with mediocre earnings. It seems unlikely that Hamsher would ever deign to admit to an emotion as base as jealousy, but one wonders all the same.